Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thoughtful Believers

Valerie Tarico blogs at ExChristian and recently wrote a post which I think all Christians need to read. She asks where the moderate Christians are, and if they are prepared to offer a middle road between fundamentalist excesses and agnosticism. I know this is a concern to many who are reading more and more of the blogs of those who have left Christianity.

Valerie remarks,
    Across the web, in bookstores, and recently the theater, criticism of religion broadly and Christianity specifically seem to be ubiquitous.
She provides some examples and then offers her view,
    I think that a huge factor on both sides of this fight is the reluctance of Christians to speak out passionately and publicly against fundamentalist excesses. Where are the moderate Christians who cry out, not only against the social outrages perpetrated by fundamentalists, but also against the ugly, ignorant, self-serving theologies that drive those outrages? These voices are conspicuously absent in the public square—as rare as moderate Muslims who passionately and publicly condemn Wahabism, shariah, burkas, or jihad.

    There are exceptions. Anglican John Shelby Spong has been unflinching: Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers In Exile & The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love. But in my experience, Spong’s courage and passion on the topic are rare. Modernist Christians have been painted with the same brush as fundamentalists because of their reluctance to say loudly what they know to be true based on a century of inquiry: that the Bible has human handprints all over it, that the sins of scripture are real, that we know the historical lineage of fundamentalist theologies and of the Bible itself, that biblical creationism is ludicrous, and that fundamentalist ideas are not only wrongheaded, they are evil.

    The cost of this silence is enormous—not only in the form of “open season on Christians”. Mainline denominations—the ones who understand this battle best, are losing adherents to both sides, in part because even their own members don’t know what they stand for. To stand for something, you have to be willing to stand against something. And if you’re a church, you can’t just stand against social ills like poverty, war, homophobia, or abstinence only education. One job of religion is to nurture (or simply provide) a world view that lets people know why those things matter. Things that matter are worth fighting about.

    As the middle falls out of our religious spectrum, fundamentalists and freethinkers are left with nowhere to go but the trenches. The alternative to revolution is evolution. That’s what modernist people of faith have to offer. It is the option that is missing when they go silent. Is it open season on Christians? Only if thoughtful believers let it be.


James F. McGrath said...

I wonder how much of this has to do with moderate (and liberal) Christians being silent, and how much has to do with the voices closer to the extremes either being louder or being more interesting to the media and thus getting more attention.

At any rate, finding the middle ground is something I'm passionate about, and I try to be as vocal and public as I can. I get criticism from both sides, which I take as a good sign! :)

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for getting us to listen to Valerie Tarico!

Did you hear Roland Martin (hosting CNN Campbell Brown's show this week)?

Here's a bit:

All this week, we've been taking an honest look at how different people, folks of different faiths live their beliefs. And tonight in our series "Test of Faith" we ask the question, can you love God, go to church every Sunday and not be a die-hard social conservative?

I say, yes, because I'm in that boat. I'm an evangelical, but I think the faith we should focus on more [issues than fundamentalists focus on]. . . .

. . . I, as a Christian, care about [many social issues too] but they rarely top the religious rights agenda. Politicians from both parties have gotten my vote based on their overall agenda not just one or two hot button issues. So, is there a place for progressive evangelicals in this country?

Three guests here to help answer that question, Reverend Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church. He's also the author of "A New Kind of Conservative." Reverend Serene Jones, president of the Union Theological Seminary, as well as Frank Schaeffer. His book "Crazy for God."
The full transcript is at http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0904/08/ec.01.html.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I have read some of your stuff and I really appreciate it. I am depressed that some of the bibliobloggers promote -

- blonde jokes
- homophobic rants
- diatribes against the overweight
- ideological geopolitics
- lectures on holy hierarchy in marriage

I used to thinik that the worst sin at a bibliobogger dinner was a fart joke. That I could have put up with.

Mara Reid said...

I've been thinking about this post. And thinking about my church. The church I go to has no clue about the debates that rages on the internet and elsewhere.
Is it because they are irresponsible?
Or is it because they are hardworking, middle class people who are not looking for positions of power and influence. They take their faith seriously and try to walk out the love of God in their average, day-to-day life? They lead the quiet life the Bible talks about, out in a rural area.
They'd never tolerate a man abusing a woman and would go confront it in the home if need be. My preacher preaches against it from the pulpit.
But they have no clue they may be the exeption rather than the rule.
What is my position then?
Should I direct their attention to the debate? or let them live quietly, changing lives one at a time?

CD-Host said...

Sue --

Gutsy post. I guess it depends what you mean by moderates. I think the moderate Christians have been critical of fundamentalist excess. For example the television commercials the United Church of Christ used to run (samples of these commercials). Or their slogans:
* We don't sing "come some ye faithful"
* "If Jesus embraced Lepers, Prostitutes, & Convicts, shouldn't we?"
* "Our faith is over 2000 years old. Our thinking is not."

The problem is not that moderates aren't critical of fundamentalist excess but that evangelicals and fundamentalists tolerate awful behavior from within their own groups. They have alliances of convenience. The patriarchy camp encourages racists even though they themselves quite often have the same attitudes about racism as the moderates. Many biblical literalism support patriarchy even though they consider things like the "umbrella of authority" to be outright heresy and a denial of the sufficiency of Christ (for women and children)....

Or to pick the example we recently discussed, the strong encouragement for lying and ad-hominum that is very typical of fundamentalist discourse. I mean just look at MacArthur's latest series of dishonest attacks on Driscoll regarding the Song of Solomon like Driscoll made this views up. MacArthur is very well respected despite the fact that in book after book after book he deliberately misrepresents the people whose views he is opposing.